By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce's president has warned against making the Grand Lucayan completely all-inclusive under new ownership.
Mick Holding, in a recent interview with Tribune Business, said he did not want the complex's three properties to all adopt that model as it "doesn't do a lot for the rest of the local economy".
He suggested that Memories, the vertically-integrated resort operator, did not previously provide a major economic boost beyond job creation because the all-inclusive model means that guests typically remain 'on property' for the duration of their visit.
"It wasn't necessarily a major boost to Port Lucaya restaurants and bars, but at least an all-inclusive resort creates jobs in the resort itself," Mr Holding said.
"I wouldn't want to see them all become all-inclusive. While good for the hotel itself, it doesn't do a lot for the rest of the local economy."
There are likely to be many who dissent from Mr Holding's views, given that Memories was seen by many as having revived Freeport and Grand Bahama's tourism product - and the Grand Lucayan - during an all-too-brief stay on the island that ended in late January 2017.
Business at the Port Lucaya Marketplace nosedived following Memories' closure and subsequent pull-out in Hurricane Matthew's aftermath, resulting in multiple lay-offs and business closures.
And, as part of a vertically-integrated operation that included Sunwing and Vacation Express as its respective airlift and tour operator partners, Memories was seen as bringing a business model that could work for Freeport given the ability to control costs at every level.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism, recently revealed to Tribune Business that Sunwing and Vacation Express have agreed to resume a summer programme that will bring more than 20,000 visitors to Grand Bahama in 2018.
That service was cancelled last year due to the Grand Lucayan's closure and loss of 1,000 rooms, representing 59 per cent of Grand Bahama's room inventory, and its resumption has fuelled hopes that Memories may return as one of the complex's hotel operators.
Tribune Business sources previously suggested that the Government's Heads of Agreement with the Toronto-based Wynn Group, the Grand Lucayan's potential purchaser, will be "conditioned" on the buyer bringing back Memories and other recognised brands with the ability to attract the necessary airlift.
Wynn has not revealed its full plans for the Grand Lucayan, and whether it plans to make the other two properties - Breaker's Cay and Lighthouse Point - into all-inclusive resorts, too. Mr Holding, meanwhile, said the Christmas announcement of the Letter of Intent (LoI) signing between Wynn and current owner, Cheung Kong Property Holdings, should have encouraged struggling businesses to "hang on" in the hope of better times ahead.
"The sale of the hotel is essential for the tourist industry on the island," he told Tribune Business. "I think what the latest moves will give is confidence to those businesses dependent on the hotel being open.
"It will give them some sort of optimism to hang in there, and hope it all comes off this time. Certainly, it's moved forward quite quickly over the last couple of weeks from an outsider's point of view. Let's hope it comes to fruition by the early part of this year.
"One or two businesses have already closed in Port Lucaya Marketplace, and others are operating below capacity, but I think that those hanging on in there now have a little bit of hope just to go on another three to four months and things will pick up," Mr Holding continued.
"Had nothing been happening, we may well have seen more businesses closing. It gives them some optimism, some hope that things will pick up very quickly.
"I don't know how long it will take to get the hotel open. Clearly, there's going to be some refurbishment necessary before they can re-open, but that rehabilitation will bring construction jobs. Once people see things moving they'll make every effort to hang in."
Mr Holding said attracting hotel brands/operators with an "international name" and ability to market their Grand Lucayan presence, as well as attract the necessary airlift, was "just as important" as closing the property's purchase.
He also backed Mr D'Aguilar's restructuring of Grand Bahama ferry/cruise ship incentive packages to ones that were based on performance, and the volume and type of passengers brought to the island, and away from "marketing deals" where operators received a fixed, lump sum upfront.
Departure tax rebates will be greater, or 'double', for stopover passengers as opposed to 'day trippers', as the Ministry of Tourism seeks to build a visitor base to sustain a revived tourism product based on the hoped-for Grand Lucayan purchase.
"That's what we need to increase the room nights and spending," Mr Holding said. "That sounds very encouraging. My initial reaction is that's very positive and the right way, in my opinion."